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Ankur Jain’s unique strategies and products are changing the beer narrative in India

The Indian beer market was valued at approximately 371 billion in 2020, with projections estimated at around 662 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 9.2% from 2022 to 2027. This impressive growth rate is a factor of changing consumption trends and the evolving tastes of India’s growing urban population. To keep up, manufacturers of brands must continue to evolve and push the boundaries in their efforts to deliver beer products that are acceptable and enduring.

At the heart of the beer revolution in India is Bira 91’s Ankur Jain. When he decided to establish a unique, local Indian brewery in 2015, it wasn’t necessarily to rival the more established brands like Kingfisher, or the more global varieties like Heineken and Carlsberg, but to simply create a space where beer is worth drinking and one that represents the vibrancy, strength, and spirit of the Indian people and heritage.

“I sold my healthcare start-up in 2007 and decided to move back to India. It dawned on me at the time that there was simply no beer worth drinking. We lacked frothy and heavy beers and I only wanted to solve the problem. We began by importing craft beers from Brooklyn and sold them in India. These were Brooklyn-brewed brands like Duvel, Chimay, and so on,” he says. The reception was good, but Jain knew there was so much more to be done if the desire was to bring quality brews to India.

Himself a late beer bloomer, Jain was more of a malt and wine guy in the early years of adult life. After he moved to Brooklyn to set up his health start-up and occupied an office next to an iconic brewery, the beer fever caught up with him. Today, he’s become a beer fanatic after many years of sampling new brands and flavours. He believes everyone just needs that first taste of awesomeness to fall in love, and that’s what Bira 91 set out to do.

Jain’s dive into the world of beers wasn’t without some hiccups and opposition, even among members of his family. His father, a respected retired architect who was in the Central Public Works Department for 35 years, wasn’t exactly excited about his son’s new found love. But that, perhaps, was the kind of drive Jain needed to succeed. He says not speaking properly to his father for almost five years gave him room and the freedom to properly explore his imagination and craft.

In its first year of operation, Bira was brewed in Belgium’s Flander’s region before production was moved to India for its #MadeInIndia journey. A couple of seed funding and angel investments later – from entities like Sequoia Capital, Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal, and Deepinder Goyal of Zomato – and Bira 91 was on its way to transform the Indian beer ecosystem with an “Imagined in India” craft beer.

Growth and trajectory

Bira 91 has been in business for almost seven years and has, within the period, grown exponentially with unique tastes and offerings. The brand has created a niche for itself and scaled up its market share and revenues beyond expectation. “Blonde and White were our first two variants. In 2017, we did a lot of research and created two additional variants, Strong and Lite. We’ve consistently recorded 150% CAGR annually from 2016 to 2021, and tripled our market share between 2019 and 2021,” says Jain.

Under the “Imagined in India” portfolio, four new limited beers were recently released, namely Bollywood IPA, Kokum Sour, Brown Ale, and Mango Lassi. “The Bollywood IPA variant is a total blockbuster. It is loud, flavourful, and vibrant with a tropical twist, inspired by West Coast IPAs that were born in California. Then we have Kokum Sour which complements the Indian summer by combining the traditional ingredient from the Konkan Coast and the affinity of the Indian palette towards sour flavours and the best sour beers of the world.

“Next is Brown Ale, which is a blend of English Nut Brown Ale and the Antwerpian Amber with strong notes of coconut and vanilla, and finally Mango Lassi, an experimental summer essential that merges Bira 91’s flagship Wheat Ale and a milkshake beer into one flavourful bomb,” he explains. Creating new flavours for the Bira 91 family is a function of consumer feedback, and the taproom in Bengaluru has been a haven of experiments and innovation towards achieving the right mixes for beer lovers. This is why Bira 91 Limited Release Taproom has been awarded the People’s Choice Award for the Best Microbrewery/Taproom of 30 Best Bars in India Awards.

With consumer preferences changing, Bira 91 has access to an ever-expanding market in India where people can now sit over a couple of beers at a bar or crack a bottle open at home. But beyond India, the brand has been able to find some penetration in 18 countries around the world, including the US, UK, Bahrain, Dubai (UAE), Oman, Germany, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Nepal, Australia, Maldives, Japan, and Sweden. This also means ramping up production to five breweries in India and manufacturing capacity up to 2.4 million cases a month. This is a 6x increase in comparison to 2019. At present, they have five breweries that are operational in Maksi, Nagpur, Kovvur, Mysuru, and Gwalior.

Collaborations and merchandise

As a brand that seeks to constantly connect to consumers, Bira 91 has continued to engage in activities that accommodate members of the public as part of their journey. They have done this through producing exciting merchandise since 2016. The goal, according to Jain, is to create amazing experiences both at home, out of home for their numerous consumers. “It is about lifestyle and deepening the relationship between the brand and the customer. Our Merch store has played an important role in our growth story and enabled a strong connection with consumers.

“It’s almost like an e-commerce operation, replete with its own sourcing, customer service, and product development teams. We have a range of merchandise available including beer and glassware, service ware, as well as apparel and accessories such as wallets, tote bags, laptop sleeves, and so on,” adds Jain. By this move, there’s a deeper connection with members of the public and consumers can better interact with their favourite brand, especially in a country where alcohol advertising is prohibited. Such genius is what has helped Bira 91 to stand out since its establishment.

A number of collaborations have also been entered into with renowned brands in a bid to introduce carefully curated and memorable experiences for consumers. These include a collaboration with boAt, India’s largest consumer wearables’ brand for an exclusive limited-edition collection of three spunky audio devices that are high on functionality and aesthetics. Bira 91 also teamed up with Nicobar, a homegrown lifestyle brand, on a limited-edition capsule of clothing and accessories inspired by the Bira 91 Gold variant.

But that’s not all! Jain explains that these are just notable brands who share the same ideology and customer-centric approach to business. “It’s basically about the consumers. We understand that consumers like to be connected to their brands in more ways than mere transactions. This is how brand equity is built; this is how loyalty is formed – a bond of mutual respect and understanding – where both the brand and the consumer embark on an adventure together to explore different avenues and possibilities. That’s what we’ve achieved,” he says.

Challenges, projections, and future plans

The biggest challenge of the beer industry in India is restrictions on advertising, but innovative entrepreneurs like Jain believe even that is an opportunity. The increasing consciousness of consumers means they can now make intelligent choices, not based on cosmetic advertising like surrogacy, but on “narratives and conversations”. Bira 91 doesn’t engage in surrogate advertising because it considers itself a lifestyle brand, more concerned about engaging its consumers and creating an experience than trying to change their attitudes through media messages.

As Jain puts it, “the Merch shop we created in 2016 is an example of our approach. We have now run it for more than five years and it has become a significant portion of our revenue. I’m not talking about a small portion, but an integral part of our revenue and brand story. We have dedicated teams for purchasing, customer service, and other aspects of a typical e-commerce operation. These are the kinds of things that genuinely reflect the ethos and aspirations of our brand, and are the reason we’re now working towards building a restaurant to continue to create that rich experience for our consumers.”

Beyond collaboration with lifestyle brands in India on many ventures and products, Bira 91 is also looking to further expand into uncharted territories. But Jain understands that winning consumers’ hearts depends on having the perfect product and blends. “Owing to the pandemic, we did not launch many new products in 2020 and 2021. We are now all set to introduce more products than we did in the last five to six years combined. We progressively invested in our product innovation pipeline to get as many new flavours bottled/canned up for wider distribution, going beyond the limited-release beers that consumers can enjoy at our taprooms,” he adds.

Bira 91 ‘Imagined in India’ limited-release beers pleasing the desi palate with innovative flavours

The late English author Gilbert Chesterton once wrote: “Let a man walk 10 miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.” He’s right, of course — there’s something about the combination of the warmest season and an ice cold brew that just works. Summer in Delhi is unbearable and we do not have an opposition for this. And, how most of us beat the heat is by gulping down frosty and flavourful beers. Delhiites can now rejoice as India’s popular beer brand Bira91 brings you a range of four new limited-release beers – Bollywood IPA, Kokum Sour, Brown Ale, and Mango Lassi – as part of their ‘Imagined in India’ initiative. Team Ambrosia was part of the preview tasting, hosted on April 07 2022 at the beautiful QLA, in Mehrauli, Delhi. The tasting was followed by dinner, curated by Chef Vicky Ratnani, and a live music set by DJ MoCity and DJ Nida. It was what we call a perfect dreamy evening filled with all the finer things in life.

A melange of flavours

The ‘Imagined in India’ beers are made with indigenous products and are inspired by the raw creativity of today’s India led by emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and startups combined with the cradle of flavours that find a home here.

The Bollywood IPA variant has a tropical twist, inspired by west coast India Pale Ales that were born in California, while Kokum Sour has traditional ingredients from the Konkan coast. We loved the Brown Ale – a blend of English Nut Brown Ale and the Antwerpian Amber with notes of coconut and vanilla. Fans of lassi would appreciate the taste of their Mango Lassi version that merges its Wheat Ale and a milkshake beer into one.

Ankur Jain, founder and CEO of the company, said, “For this generation of consumers, beer means flavour, and we deliver on that promise. ‘Imagined in India’ is an attempt to bring together the many flavours of India and its creative energy fuelled by emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and startups. Each beer is brewed with unusual ingredients – local and seasonal – which makes them unique.”

He further added, “Each of these flavours originated at the Bira 91 Limited-release Taproom at Koramangala, Bengaluru, where they received tremendous consumer love and affinity. The flavours were voted as the top-ranked choices by beer lovers, which inspired us to bring them to consumers across the country.”

Earlier, back in 2021, Bira 91, in collaboration with non-alcoholic drinks brand Svami, had rolled out Cucumber flavoured Kölsch. The Bira 91 x Svami Cucumber Kölsch is brewed with pure German Pilsner malt, a fresh cucumber flavour and the delicate caress of the finest German noble hops, with an IBU of 18 and an ABV of 6%. It is a crafted blend of bitter-sweet notes and cool cucumbers creating a crisp, balanced, and revitalising beer.

Staying true to the brand’s playful image, Bira 91 encourages consumers to be more experimental and creative, while exploring new flavours in everything, including the beers that they drink. The new ‘Imagined in India’ range is yet another exciting testament to delivering on that promise.

Collaborations for community growth

To bring alive the flavours, Bira 91 has collaborated with Kulture Co, a curated platform spearheading the new wave of Indian Graphic Art across borders. The brand on-boarded contemporary Indian artists from the Kulture Lab – artists who are breaking the mould and taking modern India to new frontiers – to conceptualise and design the packaging of the four new flavours.

Channelising their art and creativity on a new canvas, artists Ranganath Krishnamani, Osheen Siva, M. Sajid and Prince Lunawara showcase a vibrant palette of local stories around shared identities painted onto these beer cans, paying homage, and narrating the story of our home country.

Commenting on the idea behind designing the packaging of Bollywood IPA, artist Ranganath Krishnamani said, “Conceptualising the packaging of a flavour so bold and dynamic, that it takes you to the heart of Mumbai, where all things Bollywood originated, was truly exhilarating. Incorporating the charming art deco cinemas in Colaba, the iconic ‘kaali-peeli’ cabs, and the vintage colour scheme was the perfect way to capture Bollywood on a can.”

Designer of the Kokum Sour packaging, Osheen Siva, too expressed his thoughts behind the masterpiece and said, “Kokum is a tangy flavour, as Indians have developed a taste for since childhood. To depict a taste so loved yet so new to the beer industry was exciting. I conceptualised it to be something offbeat and loud. For me, the can had to give consumers an idea of what they were picking up from the rack when indulging in a Bira 91 Kokum Sour Beer.”

“Imagined in India to me is being authentic, raw and connected to our roots. Capturing the taste of Brown Ale that recognises uplifts and celebrates diverse communities of India and having the essence reflect in the artwork on the packaging was a great experience,” M. Sajid, who designed the Brown Ale packaging, enthused.

Prince Lunawara, who creatively illustrated the Mango Lassi can said, “India loves mangoes and merging the flavour with beer is as creative as it can get. Through the can, my idea was to celebrate this creativity and the beauty of India’s flavours.”

The limited release beers will retail in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Pune.

According to Expert Market Research, the India beer market stood at a value of nearly 371 billion in 2020. The industry is expected to reach approximately 662 billion by 2026, rising at an estimated CAGR of 9.2% during 2022-27.

Bira 91 partners with boAt to launch an exclusive ‘BOOM’ Audio Collection

Bira 91, one of India’s fastest-growing brands in its category, and boAt, India’s #1 Earwear brand (as per IDC India Monthly Wearables Tracker, November 2021 release) have come together to launch an exclusive ‘BOOM’ audio collection that is high on both functionality and aesthetics. The ‘BOOM’ collection will include the brand’s quirky yet powerful Stone SpinX 2.0 and Stone 190 making them the perfect party companions. For those who enjoy music in their own space, this collection will also come with boAt Rockerz 450 Headphones.

The ‘BOOM’ collection has been intricately curated for consumers who are bold and expressive, and don their wearable accessories as an extension to their personality. It seamlessly integrates the daring colour palette and the striking design of Bira 91’s ‘BOOM’ variant with the fashion-forward aesthetically designed boAt portfolio. The limited-edition collection is expected to be nothing less than the go-to style statement accessory of the season.

To bring alive the central theme of music that resonates with both brands, Bira 91 crafted a special music track for this collaboration called ‘Get Set BOOM’. The high-energy video paints a picture of the perfect weekend, with music bringing friends together in an ultimate house-party setting. The playful and upbeat lyrics and strong visuals are complemented with subtle integrations of the audio collection and other brand merchandise to create the ‘party vibe’ like never before.

Commenting on this epic partnership, Ankur Jain, CEO and Founder, Bira 91 said, “Beer and Music are a match made in heaven, which is why we are thrilled to announce our partnership with boAt. At Bira 91, we have been partnering with several like-minded homegrown brands, to provide unique experiences to our consumers. And this association with India’s largest earwear brand is another step in that direction. The launch of the limited-edition collection of ultra-stylish audio devices helps both brands deliver on their consumer promise of quality and innovation. Our endeavour at Bira 91 is to become a lifestyle brand and we have been building a dynamic portfolio of products at the Bira 91 Merch Store. This partnership with boAt takes us a step closer towards that goal.”

Commenting on this association, Aman Gupta, Co-Founder and CMO, Imagine Marketing Pvt. Ltd. said, “We are elated to partner with Bira 91, a brand that is playful, creative and resonates well with our brand ethos. We aspire to launch the most unique, vivid and quirky products in the Indian market and the BOOM collection showcases our ideology really well. We hope our boAtheads enjoy using these products as much as we did designing them.”

The BOOM collection will be available exclusively on Bira 91’s Merch store and the boAt website starting 20th January.

Japan’s Kirin Holdings to buy under 10% stake in Indian craft beer brand Bira

According to Bira’s CEO, Ankur Jain, and a spokesperson of Kirin Holdings, the Japan-based company is buying under 10% stake in Bira, an Indian craft beer brand by investing 30 million (nearly INR 220 crore). Bira is owned by B9 Beverages, a company based in New Delhi. No further details about the financials of this deal have been released to the press yet. However, Jain mentioned that he expects the deal to be closed over the next few days.

Ankur Jain added that this investment will enable Bira to break even in the 2022 fiscal year after having reported losses in the recent years as well as in the pandemic. Furthermore, it will facilitate the plans ofthe Indian craft beer brand to launch its product in Japan in the later part of 2021.

In August, Reuters had reported that Bira was in talks with international brewing companies to sell 20%stake. Valued at $210 million in 2018 by Data Provider Pitchbook, 30% of the company is owned by theCEO Ankur Jain and his family while Sequoia Capital, the U.S. based venture capital firm, owns around 45% stake.

The craft beer products offered by the company have gained popularity recently. According to Bira, the company has a 5-10% market share of the beer market in the metropolitan cities of New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai although it was launched in 2015.

On the other hand, due to falling sales in its home country, Kirin Holdings has been showing interest in investing in independent breweries. It owns a minor stake in New York-based Brooklyn brewery. But all international dealings have not gone well for Kirin. In the year 2015, its operations in Myanmar came under investigation as its local partner had military connections and in 2017, the company sold its loss-generating Brazilian unit to Heinken after losing market share.